have been seeing vs. have seen

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have been seeing vs. have seen

Post by azz » Wed Mar 13, 2019 1:17 am

a. I have been seeing that guy at our office for at least five years.
b. I have seen that guy at our office for at least five years.


Is there any difference between the meanings of (a) and (b)?

Which could be used if I won't see that guy again?
Which could be used if I will keep on seeing him at our office?
Could either be used if that guy passed away a couple of days ago?

Many thanks.
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Re: have been seeing vs. have seen

Post by Phil White » Fri Mar 15, 2019 12:16 am

Took me a while to work out what was going on here.

This one is a bit of a curve ball, because, in UK English at least, the progressive "see" has a special idiomatic meaning.

"I am seeing this guy" means that I am dating him.

"I have been seeing that guy at the office" means, or at least can mean I have been dating him.

This only applies to the progressive forms.

"I have seen that guy" does not carry this idiomatic meaning.

This means that when you use "see" in the progressive and with a human object, it will immediately be understood with the meaning of dating.

And so you have to be careful in cases where the progressive form might otherwise be appropriate:

"I've been seeing that poster for weeks, but I never read it until today." This is perfectly okay, because one doesn't date posters.

"I've been seeing that guy for months, but I don't know his name." The first meaning that springs to mind is odd (I am dating him but I don't know his name). If the normal meaning of "see" is intended, I guess that most speakers would find another way around it to avoid the ambiguity.

If you ignore this ambiguity, the progressive form is what you need (a sequence of individual occasions, a habitual occurrence). But as I say, you can't really use it with "see" and a human object.

As far as your last question is concerned, you would need the past perfect progressive if the man had already passed away, but the ambiguity of "seeing" would still be there.
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Re: have been seeing vs. have seen

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:34 pm

Phil White wrote:
Fri Mar 15, 2019 12:16 am
"I have been seeing that guy at the office" means, or at least can mean I have been dating him.

This only applies to the progressive forms.
There is an exception for the past perfect tense: "I saw that guy at the office for five years" also has the dating connotation.
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Re: have been seeing vs. have seen

Post by Phil White » Fri Mar 15, 2019 2:11 pm

Erik_Kowal wrote:
Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:34 pm
There is an exception for the past perfect tense: "I saw that guy at the office for five years" also has the dating connotation.
Simple past, Erik! That aside, I would not have thought of that connotation in that sentence, but if you say so, then I stand corrected. Perhaps it is a US English thing that you are familiar with.
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Re: have been seeing vs. have seen

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:18 pm

Phil, thanks for correcting my slip.

I don't think the exception I noted is purely an Americanism. I've heard native British speakers use it too.
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